The City and County of Denver is the first municipality to be recognized as a Solar Friendly Community under an innovative new program designed to help bring down the costs of solar energy.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock accepted the award at a ceremony Tuesday at the City and County Building. Denver earned the gold level designation through its leading practices in making solar energy faster, easier and more affordable for residents.
“We are honored and delighted to be the first to earn this recognition for our efforts in making our city friendly to solar energy,” said Mayor Hancock. “We believe solar energy is an important part of our community’s future, and our hope is this recognition will lead to a variety of environmental and economic development benefits.”
Solar Friendly Communities is one of 22 teams around the nation awarded a Rooftop Solar Challenge grant under the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. The program is a collaborative effort led by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and includes the Rocky Mountain Institute, the American Solar Energy Society, the City and County of Denver, Boulder County and the cities of Fort Collins and Golden.
The program works to advance solar friendly practices around solar permitting and inspection, as well as to make communities more welcoming to solar energy. Cities and counties can earn up to 1600 “solar points” if they implement all of the suggested solar friendly practices, with recognition starting at 700 points. Denver scored 1275 points, a gold level recognition, because of the progressive policies it adopted including posting its requirements online, offering low-cost, same-day permits, streamlining inspections and providing a variety of educational materials about solar energy to residents.
“Denver provides a great model on how a large city can make it easy for solar installers to do business,” said Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director for Solar Friendly Communities. “The streamlined permitting, inspection and educational practices translate into lower costs for consumers and a more welcoming climate for solar energy. ”
Solar permitting and inspection requirements vary dramatically across Colorado’s more than 200 cities and towns, 64 counties and 65 utilities. The Solar Friendly Communities program aims to assist local governments by offering a menu of options that can help communities shave off extra time and cost while respecting each community’s unique needs.
Costs of the hardware of rooftop solar systems-such as panels-have dropped up to 70 percent in just three years. But the “soft” costs including permitting, installation, regulatory and other related costs have not dropped and now account for up to 40 percent of the total cost of rooftop solar system.
According to a recent report by SunRun, local permitting and inspection processes add about $2,500 to the cost of each residential system. Streamlining processes and bringing those costs down will bring down the cost of solar.
“We are hoping that other communities in Colorado and elsewhere will realize that by following some relatively simple best practices, they can make life easier for city officials and customers as well as for solar installers,” said Neal Lurie, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “The more transparent and standardized we can make the process, the better able we’ll be to accommodate the projected rapid increase in demand for solar energy.”